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Human activities alter biogeographical patterns of reptiles on Mediterranean islands

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The theory of island biogeography predicts species richness based on geographical factors that influence the extinction–colonization balance, such as area and isolation. However, human influence is the major cause of present biotic changes, and may therefore modify biogeographical patterns by increasing extinctions and colonizations. Our aim was to evaluate the effect of human activities on the species richness of reptiles on islands. Location 

Islands in the Mediterranean Sea and Macaronesia. Methods 

Using a large data set (n = 212 islands) compiled from the literature, we built spatial regression models to compare the effect of geographical (area, isolation, topography) and human (population, airports) factors on native and alien species. We also used piecewise regression to evaluate whether human activities cause deviation of the species–area relationship from the linear (on log–log axes) pattern, and path analysis to reveal the relationships among multiple potential predictors. Results 

The richness of both native and alien species was best explained by models combining geographical and human factors. The richness of native species was negatively related to human influence, while that of alien species was positively related, with the overall balance being negative. In models that did not take into account human factors, the relationship between island area and species richness was not linear. Large islands hosted fewer native species than expected from a linear (on log–log axes) species–area relationship, because they were more strongly affected by human influence than were small islands. Path analysis showed that island size has a direct positive effect on reptile richness. However, area also had a positive relationship with human impact, which in turn mediated a negative effect on richness. Main conclusion 

Anthropogenic factors can strongly modify the biogeographical pattern of islands, probably because they are major drivers of present-day extinctions and colonizations and can displace island biodiversity from the equilibrium points expected by theory on the basis of geographical features.

Keywords: Alien species; Anthropocene; Macaronesia; Mediterranean Sea; elevation; human influence; island area; isolation; species richness; topography

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2009-03-01

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